Hotels of North America is very much a novel of our time—the time when people give more credence to the opinions of strangers on Yelp, Amazon, and Rotten Tomatoes—than to professional critics and reviewers. In this world that is constantly being reviewed online comes Reginald Edward Morse, or R.E. Morse, one of the top reviewers at RateYourLodging.com.
The book opens with a preface by Greenway Davies of a national association of hoteliers and ends with an afterword by the author, Rick Moody, creating the conceit that this is a collection of online hotel reviews submitted by Morse from January 2012 to March 2014. The hotel reviews are from different dates – going far back into the past, a nonlinear exploration of the hotels (and parking lots) at key moments in time, or more accurately, moments of intense emotion.
It is a sad story of a sad, lonely man filled with regret, remorse, even. There is a chapter on missing his daughter that wrecks the heart. Morse is acquainted with despair and loneliness, but there is something plucky about him, too, this man making a career out of motivational speaking when he is not very successful himself. He just keeps trying and sometimes finding delight and certainly finding a collaborator that suits him, the mysterious K. with whom he adulterates his marriage. Morse is down on his luck, a failure at high finance and yet he keeps plugging along, traveling all over, staying in so many hotels, some even more down on their luck than Morse.
The narrative, because it is unusually discursive hotel reviews, is a bit episodic. There are no cliff-hangers in hotel reviews. This made it easy to put down, like an anthology of short stories. You can read, feel satisfied with what you read, set it aside and pet the cat, cook lunch, do the dishes and all without a driving need to get back to the action. There is no action—not like that at least. There is some madcap kind of action, pretending illness to get out of paying a bill, jumping out a bedroom window to escape family counseling for an inconsolable family, that sort of thing.
The writing is beautiful. There is much that could be quoted, filled with heartache, honesty, love and despair, but my favorites are the sections where Morse is a bit snarky and uses his sharpened pen to outline details with remorseless specificity. Here is one example, “The young man at the front desk looked there was no sorrow he had not experienced, and you could imagine that the pariahs of Waterbury–the convicted frauds and disgraced politicians, the collectors of serial-killer memorabilia, the embezzlers of church donations, those found guilty of exposing themselves, the mortuary assistants with necrophiliac tendencies, the sadistic gym teachers and embittered traffic cops–all settled here where they were in search of the loneliest night imaginable and nothing made them feel better than exceedingly loud smoove playing in the lobby.”
I enjoyed Hotels of America and recommend it highly unless you are in despair. In that case, it might kill you.